September 26, 2023
Whale vs Shrimp

Imagine being an entrepreneur in the dynamic business world, faced with the crucial decision of customer selection. It all boils down to this question: “Would you rather have a Whale or a Shrimp?” The correct answer could unlock sustainable revenue growth, creating value for employees and shareholders. In this entrepreneurial sea, clients of all shapes and sizes exist. But the diamond clients truly shine—the ones who consistently fuel growth and propel your business forward.

However, choosing the right customers is a challenging task, especially in the early stages of a business. Every customer seems essential, and the eagerness to prove the worth of your product/service leads you to capture even the smallest of “shrimp” in the hopes of turning them into “whales” that drive significant growth.

As entrepreneurs just bootstrapping a business, sometimes we just take on any client willing to give us an opportunity. But those early decisions could be a costly mistake. We signed a client for a nominal fee to develop a SaaS platform in the financial services space. Little did we know that this client would demand our attention and resources for over a decade, diverting the focus of our executive team.

On the other hand, we learned the value of building a diamond client from scratch. Investing in them, immersing ourselves in their world, understanding their challenges, and using those insights to craft tailored solutions. Over a span of 13 years, we transformed from a service provider to a trusted advisor, forming an unbreakable bond. Our diamond client became the cornerstone of our success—the largest and most valuable contributor to shareholder value, employee pride, and our reputation in the face of large competitors.

So, what are the key aspects to consider when pursuing a “Whale”? It starts with a review of your current client list, examining factors such as industry alignment, purchasing power, competitive landscape, and, most importantly, the client’s enthusiasm to engage.

Once a “whale” is identified, the process of gathering customer intelligence begins. This entails searching for business information from various data sources such as ZoomInfo or similar databases. Having individuals on the ground to collect this intelligence is always advantageous. The intelligence gathering focuses on specific clients, different buying towers, key decision makers within each tower, and, most importantly, the line-level managers, directors, and above. Customer intelligence serves as the foundation for developing a comprehensive strategy to scale a “whale”.

Once intelligence has been gathered, it is crucial to take the necessary steps to establish customer intimacy. Diamond clients often seek partners who share the same vision and aspirations. Strengthening the relationship entails showcasing a long-term vision and an unwavering commitment to their success. It is essential to foster customer intimacy at all levels, not just at the C-suite, as sustainable, trusted relationships are built from the ground up. The core problems that need to be addressed exist at various organizational levels. This approach is vital for developing long-term intimacy with the client. Despite experiencing at least five changes at the C-level during the tenure of a diamond client we mentioned earlier, we substantially grew our business rapidly.

In conclusion, the final stage is to deliver what was promised to the client and deliver it with quality and consistency. We should recognize shrimps, as they hold significant potential and provide an opportunity to convert them into whales. However, if you just focus on shrimp and do not have a strategy, you will be chasing shrimp all day and must replenish your revenue every quarter. Any business should strive for a balanced mix of shrimps and whales, as it ensures a strong foundation for growth through whales while also allowing for the identification of shrimps with the potential to become whales, thus scaling the business.